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Minn. University's Approach To Preventing Concussions Begins With The Neck

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It is a hot topic dominating headlines across the country right now: concussions. Just this week, another star member of the NFL is calling it a career because of them.

At just 24 years old, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland said he is retiring because of concerns about head trauma.

While research is still being conducted on concussions, a Minnesota university is helping sports teams -- from high schoolers to pros -- prevent concussions.

This year, there are new faces on the sidelines of the Minnesota Swarm working to keep lacrosse players like Callum Crawford strong and healthy.

"Mostly, it's just kind of warming the muscles up, get things moving for them to check my body out and let me know things are going on," Crawford said.

Before the game, Northwestern Health Sciences University uses chiropractic, massage therapy and strength training to prevent injuries before they happen.

"They need to be fine-tuned, I often times relay the high performance athlete to a NASCAR or drag racing car," Dr. Tim Stark, chiropractor with Northwestern Health Sciences University, said.

Stark is behind Northwestern's Human Performance Center which also works with Minnesota's pro female football team, the Vixen. A big part of his fine tuning approach to preventing concussions starts with the neck.

"Taking care of the neck is pretty important. It's what holds your head on right, but a lot of concussion symptoms mimic whiplash and a lot of the general public knows what whiplash is it's an acceleration deceleration of the head," he said. "As you can imagine anything that might cause a concussion is probably also influencing the cervical spine."

Stark says athletes are more likely to prevent concussions if they have strong neck muscles and joints to absorb the impact.

But prevention is only part of the goal. Accurate diagnosis is also key. With so much emphasis on concussions, Stark says neck injuries can go untreated.

"If that's ignored or that's not thoroughly evaluated and managed an athlete might continue having ongoing symptoms that the provider or coach might think is a concussion, if it's being ignored than that athlete is going to be off the bench longer," Stark said.

Just before hitting the field, Crawford's only pain is in his back. But during the adjustment, he can focus on the game, knowing his body is in good hands.

"A big part of it is physical preparation getting my body to where I want it to be before I get out there," Crawford said.

Just to be clear, Stark isn't saying you won't get a concussion if your neck is stronger. But the data shows that neck strengthening has potential as a key concussion prevention tool.

Soon the public will have access to some of these services. Northwestern is opening up a sports medicine clinic for the public on their campus in Bloomington.

If you would like more information, contact Stark at 952-888-4777.

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